Vatican City, 14 Feb. (AKI) - Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday reconfirmed Camillo Ruini as president of the Italian bishops' conference (CEI), which he has chaired for 15 years, "donec aliter provideatur". This means Ruini, who will turn 75 on 19 February, the retirement age of cardinals, will be able to remain in office - though not necessarily for the entire five-year mandate. In an unprecedented move, the pontiff will consult Italy's 226 bishops before appointing the successor to Ruini, whose mandate expires on 6 March, Italy's largest circulation paper Corriere della Sera reported.
Corriere della Sera reported that consultations to replace Ruini kicked off on 26 January with a letter by Vatican nuncio (envoy) Paolo Romeo asking Italian cardinals to suggest a candidate. However, the paper suggested the bishop could stay in office at least until the National Ecclesiastical Congress scheduled to take place in Verona on 16-20 October, which was prepared by the CEI presidency and which the cardinal is slated to chair.
The pontiff's decision to call "primary elections" - as they have been dubbed by the Italian media - before appointing Italy's most senior cardinal were perceived as a sign that he means to award more autonomy to the CEI, progressively giving it the same status as other bishops' conferences worldwide.
Bishops' conferences abroad appoint their presidents while the pope has so far nominated CEI's chairman after consulting with the presidents of regional conferences.
The most likely successors to Ruini are reportedly the Patriarch of Venice Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Genoa, Tarcisio Bertone, Turin's Archbishop Severino Poletto, Milan's Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi and the Archbishop of Florence Ennio Antonelli.
I love Ruini. I certaionly consider the good cardinal to be the top churchman of last year due to his direction of the Catholic boycott of the Italian referendum last summer. That kind of leadership paired with grassroots campaigning to effect political action is an example to the Church in the First World.
As far as a successor, given his position at the last synod, I will take a stab and say Scola, though this is purely a preliminary feel and nothing substantive.